Here are some of the points we touched on in this week’s video chat:
- End of week reflection post: If you wrote your initial post about bronzes, you don’t have to write about bones, and vice versa. But chances are that through the commenting, you’ll come in touch with the other material and start thinking about connections and differences.
- Have you stopped and thought about how many animals were required to be slaughtered for the daily rituals of the Shang kings?
- multiple plastrons (belly-plate of tortoise) or scapula (shoulderblade bone, mainly of oxen and cows) per session, multiple times per day, every day, years on end… Get your calculators out!
- where did all the animals come from? Most likely the kings had a “farm” of some sort to keep the animals, and to have them grow large enough to have a big writing surface. Any idea how fast/slow these tortoises grow? How you need to feed them? How to keep them free from disease, as they are kept in captivity (which increases chances of transmissible diseases)? Clearly this was a big operation, and a lot of the state’s resources went into maintaining the ritual program. What does this tell you about the power of the Shang dynasty as an early state?
- What was the relationship of the Shang kings with their ancestors?
- Death was not the end of power for a Shang ruler or his spouse; they became even more powerful as they joined the ranks of the ancestors. Initially they were named ancestors (Father X, Mother X), later just nameless, but very powerful.
- The dead were thought to have power over the living, causing illness (toothaches!), but also assisting them. As a Shang king, you did not have as much power as we maybe think: there were a lot of obligations to the ancestors, to keep them from getting angry with you.
- Although ancestors remained an important aspect of traditional Chinese beliefs, the nature of the relationship changes significantly, and they cease to be the all-powerful almost god-like creatures of the Shang. In late imperial times you even see that people can call on daoist priests to punish unruly ancestors!